>I have just watched Nicola Sturgeon’s statement to a hushed Holyrood, and I have to say I thought she handled herself extremely well. Even an old cynic of some 25 years’ experience in politics like me could believe that her words were genuine and sincere.
We’re used to Nicola being abrasive, with a reputation for political pyrotechnics that rivals Alex Salmond’s.Today everything about her showed respect. From her words to her body language, she struck exactly the right tone.
The transcript will be available later, obviously, but here’s my notes of what she said to keep you going.
She started by saying that being a minister did not in any way absolve an MSP from their duties to their constituents. While there was a duty of privacy, the letter she’d written was effectively now a public document and it was in that context she was making the statement.
She then set out the circumstances of her dealings with Mr Rauf, having first met him in a surgery in July 2008. At no point did he deny his guilt and he also disclosed his previous conviction.
22 days ago, he contacted her office to ask her to write a letter to the Court explaining his health and family circumstances. She felt that because of the personal knowledge of those factors from her meetings with him that it was appropriate for her to do so.
She pointed out that she did not condone the “serious criminal offence” that Mr Rauf had committed and did not suggest that he should not be punished.
She went on to say that her understanding of her duties of an MSP are that when a constituent asks for help it is her duty to make such representations as she is asked to make as long as they are legitimate, legal and appropriate.
She accepts that application of judgment determines what is legitimate,legal and appropriate and the discussion today is on her judgment in this matter.
She has thought long and hard about her actions.
In her view it was entirely appropriate for her to write as an MSP to draw attention to the person’s circunstances. She is not the first Member of Parl to make such a rep.
She has read the letter she wrote many times over and on reflection thinks it could and should have been written differently.
She regrets use of the word mistake and accepts that it could be interpreted as something different than she actually meant.
She should not have asked the court to consider alternatives to custody. That was a request more suited to her former occupation as a solicitor than her current role as MSP. It was also not necessary as a court will consider all of the options.
Then we got to the crux of the matter:
“In short I assisted a constituent in good faith and I got things wrong and I am sorry.”
She said that she allowed herself to be influenced by the impact of Mr Rauf’s actions on her family. (A natural, fairly human reaction, if you ask me. If empathy becomes a no go area for a politician, then we really are stuffed).
She then went on to give some reflective words about political culture in general, saying that it’s not easy to apologise especially in a pre election period does not make it easy
Made me wonder whether a general willingness to allow space for people to reflect on their actions, or actions of others might be a better approach than instant judgment and she acknowledged that she had been guilty of the latter approach in the past.
She is grateful to MSPs in all opposition parties who have gone out of their way to offer her words of kindness – although she was quick to reassure that she wasn’t going to drop them in it by naming them.
She loves her role as health secretary and hopes she can continue with permission of Parliament.
She was very clear of her view that it would be wrong to decide what help to give a constituent on the basis of how it would look.
She finished by saying that she would learn from events and not repeat mistakes but will continue to represent her constituents.
So, would her gracious words have dragged the Labour Party up to a decent standard of debate. Nah. I think they realised that she had done enough to keep her job but many of them insisted on sticking the knife in to both her and Alex Salmond. I’ll tell you what, I’m so glad Johann Lamont isn’t my MSP. It seems that if I went to her I’d have to fill in a disclosure form at the door of her surgery. She seems to only want to represent the blameless. She asked if Nicola had performed background checks. I’m sure her staff have enough to do without turning into private detectives.
In a way Johann Lamont’s words seem to sum up Labour’s attitude to people. Most people who seek help from elected representatives are good people who tell the truth. Many are really vulnerable and desperately need help. Unless you have a good reason to doubt it, you have to take people’s word for what they’re telling you.
Iain Gray then asked her to withdraw the letter – which seems a bit daft seeing as she’d just publicly said that she’d change things and that the hearing was over and done with anyway. How can you take something off the public record as if it had never existed? A bit strange.
Compare and contrast the hard edged Labour attitude to the approach taken by Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson Robert Brown. While acknowledging what he described as the gracious manner of Nicola’s apology, he asked a reasonable question about what she thought her letter would add to the case given that Rauf’s solicitor would make the same points. He made clear to the BBC later that he wouldn’t have written the letter at all, but he was also clear that he never thought that this was a resigning issue for Nicola Sturgeon.
Even the Tories came out of today with some credit. I know they have previous for allowing themselves to become little more than Salmond’s little helpers in this Parliament, but that aside, they asked reasonable questions and conducted themselves in a businesslike manner.
The real villain of today’s piece has to be Labour, who, frankly, are growing nastier and more negative by the day. This election campaign is going to be real fun.